Napoli in must-win situation in Europa League


Napoli's Gonzalo Higuain. (Marco Vasini/AP)

ROME — With Rafa Benitez reportedly ready to leave at the end of the season, Napoli president and film producer Aurelio De Laurentiis is taking matters into his own hands ahead of a Europa League quarterfinal match against Wolfsburg.

De Laurentiis ordered the squad into a permanent training camp after getting eliminated by Lazio last week in the Italian Cup semifinals.

The hotel that the squad was put up in reportedly had no hot water and no functioning kitchen at times, prompting some players to order out for dinner.

Thursday programming alert: Watch Wolfsburg vs. Napoli on the four main Sportsnet channels, Dynamo Kyiv vs. Fiorentina on Sportsnet ONE and Sevilla vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg on Sportsnet World. Coverage starts at 3:00 pm ET. || Also at 3:00 pm ET, watch Club Brugge vs. Dnipro online at Sportsnet World NOW || Broadcast schedule

After a convincing 3-0 win over Fiorentina on Sunday — which ended a five-match winless streak in Serie A — players were allowed out for one night but had to report back the next day to prepare for Thursday’s match in Germany.

"I’ve decided that the squad will go into training camp indefinitely," De Laurentiis wrote on Twitter. "Napoli is a city full of distractions and now is the time for maximum concentration. Success has to be based on discipline."

Members of Napoli’s staff disagreed with the move.

"My colleagues can oppose it but the decision is up to me," De Laurentiis said.

Napoli is attempting to win only its second European trophy, after Diego Maradona led the southern club to what was then known as the UEFA Cup in 1989.

De Laurentiis bought Napoli in 2004 when the club was bankrupt and has seen the squad rise from the third division to a perennial challenger in Serie A.

In the other quarterfinal matches, it’s: Dynamo Kyiv vs. Fiorentina; defending champion Sevilla vs. 2008 winner Zenit St. Petersburg; and Brugge vs. Dnipro.

Here are a few things to know about Thursday’s matches:



Defending champion Sevilla is undefeated at the Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium over 32 matches, having most recently rallied from two goals down to hold Barcelona to a 2-2 draw in the Spanish league.

"We’ll see what our limit is at the end of the season," Sevilla defender Fernando Navarro said. "But this month is going to be beautiful and inspiring."



While the atmosphere may not be as tense as at Napoli, Fiorentina is also under pressure to produce when it visits Kyiv.

The Tuscan squad was also eliminated from the Italian Cup semifinals last week — with a 3-0 home loss to Juventus — then followed that up with the defeat by the same score at Napoli.

Having been beaten by Napoli in last season’s Italian Cup final, Fiorentina is still seeking its first trophy of any kind since shoe and leather entrepreneur Diego Della Valle purchased the club in 2002.

Fiorentina had also gone bankrupt and had to restart in the fourth division when Della Valle rescued the club.

Fiorentina is unbeaten in its last 11 European away matches — with eight wins and three draws — while Dynamo has won all five of its European home games this season by margins of two goals or more.

Dynamo is also the top-scoring side left in the competition, with 22 goals in 10 matches — an average of 2.2 per game.



Bas Dost is emerging as an assist man, not just a goal scorer. The Dutchman has 13 goals in 16 Bundesliga matches so far this season but has hit a dry spell recently.

Not to worry: Dost provided the final key pass for both Wolfsburg goals in the 2-0 win at Hamburg over the weekend.

Usually, it’s Kevin de Bruyne who assists on Wolfsburg’s goals. And he did begin both scoring moves, before Dost set them up.

"The second goal, the way he set it up, was especially brilliant," De Bruyne said. "He doesn’t have to score all the time. If he sets up goals that’s good, too."

Dost also has five assists to go with his five goals in the Europa League this season.

Wolfsburg is attempting to knock out a second consecutive Italian club after eliminating Inter Milan in the Round of 16.

"The atmosphere is going to be even hotter than in Milan but I think we have enough quality to master this job," Wolfsburg director Klaus Allofs said. "As the second-place team in the Bundesliga, we can’t say we are without chances."

While Wolfsburg is still mathematically in the Bundesliga title race, 10 points behind Bayern Munich, realistically it can still win two other competitions — the Europa League and the German Cup.

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